Garrett Richards, ranked the number two prospect in the Angels organization, was making a push to be a starter in the spring. With a hamstring injury keeping Jerome Williams off the field, the door was opened for Richards to lay claim to the fifth starter spot. Richards looked sharp in the spring, giving the Halos serious pause about who to use as their fifth starter, but ultimately they decided to stick with Williams and sent Richards to Triple-A Salt Lake to get a bit more seasoning.
At Salt Lake, Richards saw his strong spring turn to a strong April, but soon that strong start fizzled out. Over his last six starts in Triple-A, Richards allowed 41 hits and walked 23 in just 29.1 innings of work. Richards was having trouble with his command, admitting that he was “nibbling” more than he should, and the results were less than stellar. However, when Jered Weaver wen to the DL with a back sprain, Richards got the call-up and would fill in for the ace as the fifth Angels starter. After his first start last night, he might be poised to start another controversy.
Richards decided to attack opposing hitters rather than nibbling like he’d been doing in Salt Lake, and the result was spectacular. In his season debut against Seattle on Tuesday, Richards was dominant through 7.0 innings, allowing just one run off a Michael Saunders solo home run and four hits, striking out eight and walking just two. It was Richards’ first major league win after going 0-2 in five starts with a 5.79 ERA last season when he was thrown into the fire due to injuries to the rotation.
While he was just a wide-eyed kid in that moment, he looked like a man ready to stay in the big leagues last night. He retired six of the first seven hitters he faced. He struck out the side in the second inning on just 11 pitches. He retired the first two batters he faced in five of the seven innings he pitched. His fastball was still hitting 95 on the gun in the seventh inning. Outside of the long ball to Saunders, Richards was flawless against the M’s.
By comparison, against the same lineup the night before, Ervin Santana was shelled for seven runs on eight hits while walking half a dozen in 4.2 innings, which begs the question: Would Richards be a better fit for the starting rotation than Santana? The veteran righty is coming off his third straight bad start, is 2-7 with an ERA of 5.33, and in 12 Santana starts this season, the Angels are just 3-9. Santana has been, without question, the weak link of this Halos rotation, but is it time to push him out and into the bullpen?
Santana has built a career on two pitches, a fastball and a slider. He has used the pitches to near perfection to accumulate double digit wins in five of his seven big league seasons. But the lack of a quality third pitch may be catching up to Santana as he struggles to find a consistent delivery. Some time in the pen could help Santana fix whatever is ailing him, or maybe even allow him to develop his third pitch (a change-up) to the point of being willing/able to throw it. Regardless, he would add a strong arm to the Halos bullpen where his two-pitch repertoire wouldn’t hurt him like it does as a starter.
One start won’t make Garrett Richards a success in the majors, but his performance will give the Halos something to think about. If he can replicate his performance last night, he’s going to give Mike Scioscia a very difficult decision when Jered Weaver comes off the DL. Should he stick with his guy Santana while he tries to figure out what’s gone horribly wrong? Or does he give the young fireballer Richards his chance at cracking a major league rotation? Either way, the Angels will have plenty to think about before Weaver’s return.